Category Archives: Gardening

Eliminate mosquitoes by eliminating stagnant water

The most effective, cheapest way to control mosquitoes is to eliminate the standing water that larvae need to develop. A dry yard doesn’t have mosquitoes. It’s really that simple. Below is a list of objects to get rid of or dump regularly. Please share with your neighbors.

1. Gutters

This is at the top of the list because almost all houses have gutters and almost all homeowners hate to clean them out. Check for blocked gutters weekly if you have a lot of trees nearby. If gutter status is hard to see, buy a drone to facilitate inspections. If you can’t afford a drone just get an extra-long, telescoping selfie stick for your smartphone.

2. Flexible downspout extenders

Flexible downspout extenders are almost perfect for breeding mosquitoes — the ridges hold water and trap organic matter, the black absorbs heat from sunlight (thus speeding development), and female mosquitoes of several species just adore ovipositing inside plastic objects. They are especially bad if nestled in shrubs and ground cover. Note that they hold water even if they are sloped downward. Get rid of them. All of them.

3. Tarps

If you leave a tarp in your yard, you’ve created lots of nooks in which water and debris will accumulate. I frequently see tarps covering soggy logs that owners seem to have no real intention of ever splitting and burning. I think people view tarps as cloaks of invisibility, magically hiding loathsome to-do items from spouse.

4. Toys

Sandbox toys, sleds, wagons, and kiddie pools seem as if they were specifically designed to breed mosquitoes. I.e., even when stored upside down they have nooks that collect enough rainwater to breed mosquitoes. Store them in the garage. If you think covering them with a tarp will work, please see #3.

5. Bird baths

Everyone should have a bird bath. But if you do, you need to either have a water bubbler/agitator (mosquitoes hate that) or you need to kill the larvae by adding granules of Bacillus thuringiensis var israelensis (abbreviated, Bti). Bti is extremely effective: you can add it a container that has thousands wriggling of larvae (see movie) and they will all be dead within hours. Just add it every two weeks and your bath will always be mosquito free. But don’t forget — make yourself a smartphone reminder or write on paper calendar.

Bird bath next to purple coneflowers

6. Trash and recycling bins

If you can’t store your trash and recycling containers under a roofed area, keep a lid on them. I found the ones below behind a local church. Tens of thousands of larvae within.

Recycling bins with stagnant water

7. Watering cans

Watering cans are rarely transparent so you can’t see the mosquito larvae inside, but they are present if you leave them around the yard when it’s been raining a lot. Store them empty, in garage.

8. Wheelbarrows

Just keep them propped up vertically so they don’t accumulate rain water. Or drill holes.

9. Rain barrels

Just put screening over the top. Or add Bti every other week. I don’t recommend adding mosquito-eating fish because they die when water level gets low (plus the fish suffer before dying).

10. Pot saucers

Pot saucers are unneeded outside so it’s easy to eliminate them. If you like them for decorative reasons you’ll need to add Bti regularly. It’s better to just get rid of them because you’ll eventually forget. You know you will.

Other places where mosquitoes breed

Below are photographs of stagnant water I’ve noticed around my town. On my list of photographs to add: bromeliad, pool cover, bottle cap.

Alternative lawn signs for Mosquito Shield

Mosquito Shield is just one of dozens of companies that spray pyrethroids to kill mosquitoes. Homeowners typically pay $800 per summer for treatments spaced every 21 days and, as part of the deal, agree to feature a sign in their yard for the season.

Two types of people have these yard signs. The main category is homeowners who fully understand that pesticides have bad environmental effects but who simply don’t care. These are likely the same people who knowingly drive with their high beams on at night (“It’s safer for ME!”). And then there are people who were duped by the pesticide companies into believing pyrethroids kill only mosquitoes.

To better reach this second type of person as well as those who are interested in mosquito sprays but are still on the fence, I’ve fabricated six signs that highlight the fact that pyrethroids kill other animals:

All the signs are fairly self-explanatory except for perhaps the Bird Shield one. Pyrethroids don’t kill birds directly but many species depend on insects and spiders to feed themselves and their young. So when you hire Mosquito Shield to nuke your yard every three weeks you are reducing the numbers of birds that can survive in an area.

I realize that none of the above signs is going to be used by an actual pesticide company. Their business model is to obfuscate about the effects of pyrethroids. Indeed, most companies try to hide the fact that their mosquito sprays even contain pesticides. That’s why the government (federal and/or state) should require companies to clearly indicate the active ingredient of the spray. Here’s how it could (should) look, thus allowing curious neighbors to Google the chemical and be horrified.

Pyrethroid sign for Mosquito Shield

If you are an influential part of a local government, please consider enacting an ordinance that requires disclosure of the pesticide name on signs.

If you need an individual sign for your a presentation, here are some image files: fireflies, butterflies, bees, spiders, fish, birds.

Please share this page on your neighborhood social media to get the word out. These companies are spreading in popularity and it’s horrifying.

More details here.

Identifying mantid egg cases in Pennsylvania

While you are tidying your yard this spring, please be on the lookout for mantid egg cases (oothecae). There are three introduced species where I live in Pennsylvania (Delaware County): the Chinese mantid (Tenodera sinensis), the narrow-winged mantid (Tenodera angustipennis), and the European mantis (Mantis religiosa). We have only one native species: the Carolina mantid (Stagmomantis carolina). Below are photographs of their oothecae.

Chinese mantid (Tenodera sinensis)

Egg case of Chinese mantid (Tenodera sinensis)

Chinese mantid oothecae are typically round (or roundish) roughly textured, and uniform in color.

Narrow-winged mantid (Tenodera angustipennis)

Egg case of narrow-winged mantid (Tenodera angustipennis)

Narrow-winged mantid oothecae are usually rather elongate (in contrast to Chinese mantid and Carolina mantid oothecae). They are also seem to have red streaks, though the color seems to be most noticeable after they age a few months.

Carolina mantid (Stagmomantis carolina)

Egg case of Carolina mantid (Stagmomantis carolina)

Carolina mantids form relatively smooth, teardrop-shaped oothecae with a central portion that is lightly colored. In addition to branches, often found on tree trunks, rocks, and buildings.

Note: Missing from above is a photograph of a European mantis (Mantis religiosa) ootheca, another introduced species that occurs in my area (Delaware County, Pennsylvania). Here’s another pic. They should also be destroyed. Another common name for the European mantis is praying mantis (not preying mantis).

For an excellent overview of all of these species, please see the Cape May Wildlife Guide’s page on mantids.

If you need help identifying an ootheca, I highly recommend posting a photograph on iNaturalist. If you post there, feel free to include my iNaturalist username (@colinpurrington) in your caption so that I can have a look. Not only will you get an answer from the iNaturalist community within a day or two, your submission helps scientists track the spread of invasive species.

What should you do with the non-native oothecae?

Invasive mantids eat butterflies, native bees, honey bees, small birds, and also the native mantid, so when you find egg cases, dispose of them. Here are some suggestions on how to do that:

  • Give them to a neighbor who has chickens
  • Give them to a neighbor who has a pet tarantula, snake, lizard, or fish
  • Put them in a freezer for a week
  • Step on them

But whatever you do, do not just relocate oothecae to some nearby field — that just transfers the problem to someplace where you can’t see the problem. I.e., even though you might pride yourself as being a gentle soul that wouldn’t kill a fly, releasing invasive predators will result, e.g., in monarch butterflies being eaten alive. Don’t be that person. If you simply cannot bring yourself to kill the eggs, ask somebody to help you do the right thing.

But aren’t mantids great for pest control?

Many people (I include myself) grew up being told by highly-educated, seemingly trustworthy adults that mantids are ideal for providing chemical-free pest control in the garden. That view, it turns out, is a myth. Although it’s true that young mantids consume small, pestiferous insects, when mantids are fully grown they tend to camp out on flowers and wait for large butterflies (and even birds). I.e., when a mantid is fully grown it will not even look at an aphid. Mantids are, of course, excellent for controlling butterflies and hummingbirds, just in case you happen to hate those animals.

Some people even believe that mantids can control ticks. They don’t. They are equally ineffective at controlling mosquitoes.